Wednesday, October 13, 2010
KMC X9 SL Ti Review
I'm pretty jaded and cynical when it comes to new things that promise to be lighter, better shifting and more durable. When I had the opportunity to get my hands on a KMC X9 SL Ti I jumped at it, and I'll admit it's because it was gold, not because of the claims about improved performance.
Over the course of researching KMC I learned that they've been making chains for a long time, and have done contract manufacturing for Shimano among others. They've gotten some good press about their chains, but I have to admit that I thought a lighter than normal chain would be more problematic than its more substantial brethren.
This summer at the Windham World Cup I talked with Bentley Lee of KMC USA, and his confidence in his product convinced me to give KMC chains a shot. The last thing Bentley said to me was "you will notice the shifting performance immediately."
On my first mountain bike ride after the Hampshire 100 I exploded the PC 991 chain that had been installed the week before the race and had carried me through the 63 miles of racing. The race was hard, and the conditions were challenging, but I had hoped to get more than one long day's worth of riding out of it. Of course this had to happen on a group ride so my riding partners had to wait for me while I pieced it back together.
When I got home and cleaned up the bike I installed the X9SL Ti. I could tell that the chain was palpably lighter than the one I was replacing although I didn't have a scale to quantify the difference. After having a bad experience with a standard chain I was questioning the logic of installing a superlight chain right before an endurance race.
What I first noticed when I installed the chain was the shifting performance- the chain moved noticeably quicker through downshifts and upshifts required less effort. Bentley was right- this chain did shift better in the workstand and on my first test short test ride.
With guarded optimism I headed out for a ride to really put the chain through its paces. The local trails start with a sharp climb right at the trail head and I almost always climb it in the granny, which means a forced front shift under load. Remarkably, the chain moved quickly and smoothly as I dropped it down into the 24.
For the next few miles I was paying strict attention to shift quality and chain performance and I wasn't disappointed. Somewhere 20 minutes in I forgot about the chain, refocused on the ride and enjoyed a trouble free day on the trails.
After those good initial test results I decided to run the KMC chain at the Vermont 50, and I was glad I did. In dry and dusty conditions the chain performed flawlessly with its treatment of Boeshield T9 lube. I honestly think the titanium nitride coating improves shift performance and helps shed dirt (the picture above is from after the Vermont 50 and the rest of the bike is still coated in a film of dust and dried energy drink). In almost 6 hours of racing the chain never miss-shifted or faltered in any way.
What I find most amazing about this chain is that after that race it shows less than .25 wear (almost new) on my Park Chain Checker and has many miles still left in it.
I am thoroughly impressed with the KMC X9 SL Ti and highly recommend it. If you find the gold too garish you can opt for the X9 SL version without the ti nitride coating. There are also the marginally heavier X9L and X9 versions both available with or without the ti nitride for less money.